Its been 31 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger first played cybernetic assassin the T-800 in James Camerons classic time-travel thriller The Terminator. Since then hes battled Predators, travelled to Mars, tussled with Batman and even served as the Governor of California an achievement hes clearly still immensely proud of, flashing his knuckleduster of a commemorative ring as he leans forward to offer SFX (opens in new tab) a firm but enthusiastic handshake.
Were in his adopted home town of Los Angeles to talk about his new film Terminator Genisys (opens in new tab) the fifth instalment in the long-running franchise, billed as something of a series reset. This time out, Schwarzeneggers playing an older, more grizzled machine, sent back even further in time to prepare a young Sarah Connor (Game Of Thrones Emilia Clarke) for the oncoming war with Skynet. SFX grilled the former Mr Universe about returning to the role that helped to kickstart his Hollywood career.
Did you have any idea back in 84 that the T-800 would become one of your most iconic characters?
"No way. I dont think anyone could know. Moviemaking is another science. If you knew ahead of time what is successful or not successful, we wouldnt make movies that go in the toilet, right [laughs]? So no. James Cameron and I knew that we had a very unique project, and there was something very powerful there. But I dont think even the studio really knew.
"When the movie came out, they sold it as a B-movie. They didnt really go all out with the campaign. And then it had reviews and they used the quotes, because we had great reviews and we were picked as one of the top 10 movies of the year by Time magazine. I think they were surprised by that how the highbrows also liked the movie, and found something interesting, because of the time travel and what the future holds. No one knew that it would be this big, and that the sequel would become the highest grossing movie of the year. We were all surprised."
You didnt do the last Terminator movie
"I didnt do Terminator Salvation because I was the Governor [of California] at the time. You cant do both. The people would be very upset if they saw me going off for several months because Im doing a movie. I made it very clear to them that I would not even do one single shot, because it doesnt work. California is the sixth largest economy in the world, so you have your hands full!"
What was it about Genisys that appealed to you? Why did you want to reprise the character?
"The thing with Terminator was: how do you rework it in a way so that you dont get narrowed into a tunnel with the rules [of time travel]. Then you have nowhere to go. Or if you go outside, people say, Thats bogus. So how do you do that? I think theyve been very successful with Star Trek and with other films like that. They did that and it worked. So when I read the script I saw that it alters the story of the original Terminator and when I meet myself as I ask for the clothes, someone says behind me, You wont need it [laughs] thats when all hell breaks loose and the story goes off in a different direction. To me, that was the most attractive thing."
What kind of Terminator are you playing in this movie?
"Im more of the protector that you saw in Terminator 2 and 3. I become a fatherly figure to Sarah Connor Ive groomed her since she was a child to become this warrior. Its a great role to play. The evolution youll see is in the visual effects. There are things weve done in this film that we were not able to do in 1991. For instance, the whole recreation of me as the Terminator from 1984 Even now, theyre lucky if they get all the frames in before the movies released, because it is very difficult to do. But theyre doing it. Ive seen it and I was really blown away."
Was the shoot very physical for you?
"Very physical. Even though the Terminators flesh has aged, the skeleton stays the same. Thats why it was important for me to gain 10lbs and to get the same size as I was in the first Terminator movie. I have to say, everyone did an incredible job because they really trained hard. For me, its natural to train hard. But for [the other actors] to come in like that and to bulk up and be that muscular, and Emilia having to do all this weapons training and all that, I have the utmost respect for them for being able to pull it off."
How is Genisys relevant to todays audiences?
"Theres a lot of real stuff in there. The outcome is kind of sci-fi-y and futuristic, but even that day is becoming real. Were all fascinated by machines. Terminator Genisys is all about: how can [Skynet] suck the world into buying into their future Its now becoming so much of a reality, I dont really see it as science fiction!"